Fulbright Spotlight: Cyril Triolaire, Ph.D., University of Clermont Auvergne

Thu, 03/28/24
Cyril Triolaire

Dr. Cyril Triolaire is a Fulbright scholar visiting FSU’s History department for eight months this year. He is associate professor of History and Theater Studies at the University Clermont Auvergne, France. His stay was arranged by the Fulbright Researcher Program of the Franco-American Commission to allow Triolaire to carry out research in Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama.  A historian of eighteenth and nineteenth century France, Triolaire specializes in the history of fairground shows, theatre and entertainment troupes that circulated within France and between France and the United States. His current research is on the theme "From Fairground shows to Curiosity shows: cultures, practices and mobilities (France/ The United States of America, 1770s-1810s)."

Triolaire’s previous works focused on everyday theatrical life in the provinces, specifically in the central region of France. He reconstructed the local entertainment schedules, the administrative and cultural relationship between the center and the provinces and offered a nuanced assessment of the connections between touring actors and directors, audiences and critics, repertoires, economics, buildings, policing, and governance. In his current work, he expands his research to include French settlements in the United States.

What is your current research project about?

For my promotion to full professor, I need to write my ‘habilitation’ which is like a second Ph.D. dissertation.  For my first Ph.D., I worked on the staging of Napoleonic power through public festivals and theaters in the French provinces. For my current project, I am interested in fairground and curiosity shows during the French Revolution and the first Napoleonic empire for all of France, and I am shifting the focus on the mobilities of actors and participants in these shows between France, the southeastern USA, i.e. South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana, and the Caribbean, especially Saint Domingue, from the 1770s to the 1820s.

Before I came to FSU in January, I did some research in archives in Nantes and Bordeaux. I looked at records dealing with passport applications, passenger manifests for ships, and police records to identify different artists, men, and women, who left France for the U.S., either for more money or to perform in front of a new audience. Now, I am rediscovering the same artists in the American sources. This allows me to put together new artistic networks and connections between France, the Caribbean, and the USA.

My aim is to take a fresh look at these curiosity shows and their developments. Although they are often seen as a genre distinct from that of the theatre, I want to combine the two entertainment genres and look at the circulation of performers. One of the questions I am asking is what impact did the American revolution and the French revolution have on the circulation of performers?

In France, Napoleonic legislation from the early 19th century (1806) placed fairground shows outside of legislation regulating the theatre. Theatre would be what happens inside a traditional theatre building with a theatre company that specializes in one specific theatrical genre like comedy or tragedy. A show would be everything else, so a pantomime, puppet theatre, acrobats, circus, wax museum, panorama, etc. All these are curiosity shows, that is what they were called at the time. Yet, as they might all be dealing with the same content, these non-theatre shows were also scrutinized by the police.  

Because of that, many artists were unable to continue performing in French cities, and they searched for both French provincial areas and foreign/ overseas areas to work in instead. Several artists moved into more science-inspired curiosity shows, and after testing these shows out in France for a year or two, they took their spectacle to the U.S., especially after the Louisiana purchase. Artists came from France and performed in New Orleans and Savannah for a time, and then continued with their lives in the new world.

I am looking at the transfer of culture from France to the U.S. For example, the figure of harlequin becomes a hunter in U.S. performances. Harlequin hunts bears from Georgia and Florida. Artists thus reinvent common theatrical figures and adapt them to the new audiences and context. The history I am doing is social, cultural, economic, artistic, and political.

While work has been done on the touring of circuses, wild west shows, mainly for the second half of the 19th century, I am keen to document that these types of touring entertainment venues already happened a century earlier, from the 1770s onward. 

What sources are you looking at?

The main records I am working with is newspapers. Old newspapers for Georgia and South Carolina which have been digitized, but I cannot access in France. I have access to them in FSU’s Law Library which makes researching very convenient. I am also consulting newspapers in Special Collections in Strozier library. In addition to my research here at FSU, I am also looking at materials in the State Archives of Florida, as well as archives in Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans.

Why did you decide to base yourself at FSU?

I came to FSU because of the Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution. It is the only such institution in the United States. Colleagues in France and the U.S. advised me to contact its director, Rafe Blaufarb, and he was very welcoming to me and facilitated my Fulbright application at his end.

I had been to the United States before. My wife is an English teacher in France, and I had visited her during her stays in Oklahoma and Maine. Traveling and living outside one’s country is very important; it opens one’s eyes to new perspectives. My previous trips to the U.S. encouraged me to expand my research into its Francophone areas.

Back in France, one of the history courses I teach is on American history from the independence war to the end of the Civil War. 

What is your life like in France?

In France, I belong to two different departments. I teach in the History department, which has 600 students and 20 instructors. I also teach in the department of Performing Arts with 400 students and only 5 instructors. I am also involved in a number of administrative committees within my university and also the region of France I am living in. I have been doing this for ten years now, and it is not always easy to combine teaching with research, and social and family life.

In order to complete the research for my habilitation, I applied for a leave semester from my university and the Central Council of National Universities in France. I received a Fulbright fellowship for one semester and another fellowship from The National Centre for Scientific Research in France. It is fantastic to be able to concentrate only on research and writing without any teaching commitments for a year. I will be giving a few lectures here at FSU, in New Orleans, Miami, but other than that, I can research and write some articles, and also start my new book.

Any thoughts on living in Florida?

My family and I are enjoying our time in Tallahassee. My children go to local schools, and my wife volunteers there too. We have been going on many short trips to explore the area, from St. Augustine to Apalachicola and Thomasville. In our daily life, we try and combine French and American things, especially with regards to meals.

If there is one thing that I miss, it is the cheese. The region I live in, Auvergne, is a big cheese region in France. It is a very rural area in the very center of France. I miss the varieties of cheese that are available there. But my family and I are exploring the different dishes here in the south, and we are enjoying them both by eating out and cooking at home.